Having seen its red hot Texan star leave for greener pastures and its Palme d’Or winning director demote himself to a producer/cinematographer role, their was little to suggest that Magic Mike XXL was anything more than the usual franchise cash grab, another distracting wash of the dance moves, shiny pecs and Tatum charm. Magic Mike Regular Size tapped into a largely untouched, largely female gap in the summertime market prompting opinion pieces en masse but XXL has managed to go one better. Gregory Jacobs (Soderbergh’s longtime AD) has taken all the things (bar McConaughey) that gave part one its edge and has produced a sequel of greater quality. A slickly shot, methamphetamine-fuelled road movie that even hits a few little euphoric highs.
We find the titular hunk in a somber mood. His beach scraps furniture biz is booming, but Brooke seems to have moved on. He’s put the body-waxed world of male stripping behind him, but one brief reunion with his old team and one ludicrous woodshop dance sequence relights his dormant stripping flame. He joins his aging band of merry bronzed men and hits the road for one last show, a male stripping convention in Myrtle Beach.
Borrowing a little from the dance movies that made Tatum a star, the film’s main arc is about finding one’s own voice in one’s chosen art form, and all that. Beefy Firemen and It’s Raining Men just won’t cut it anymore; Mike knows these chicks deserve better. The team’s Deep South road trip exposes them to the apparently rich tapestry of the Male Entertainer world. They camp it up for a New Orleans Bounce drag-show, they find soul in Jada Pinkett Smith’s voodoo-styled brothel and enjoy a weirdly stirring evening with a group of southern gals, led by Andie MacDowell.
And it casts a strange sort of spell. For a moment you almost believe that Mike’s skills are in fact part of some sort of underground American scene. And credit to the film, only in retrospect does this seem like such a ludicrous idea. In doing so, however, the film brings up some obvious but nonetheless important things. We’re not strippers, we are male entertainers is the group’s credo, loud and clear, and there’s something quite interesting in that.
At a time when gender equality is perhaps the most-talked-about/least-acted-upon topic in the business, Jacobs has delivered a summertime tentpole release that simply states: female audiences deserve – and are just as willing to pay for – more from what the multiplexes have on offer. Magic Mike XXL is a slick funny piece of entertainment with a charming, riffing cast. But, more importantly, it grabs a long-overdue slice of Hollywood’s often silly, occasionally brilliant, dream-fulfillment pie.
About bloody time.
Magic Mike XXL | Directed by Gregory Jacobs (USA, 2015) with Channing Tatum, Jada Pinkett Smith and Amber Heard. Starts July 23